Thursday, December 28, 2017

Marian musings

The wonderful Christmas story, which continues to touch, and often to inspire, generations represents the confluence of two significant streams of thought. Jewish scriptures, theology, and beliefs comprise one of these streams. The authors of Matthew and Luke both quote the Jewish Scriptures to prove that Jesus was a descendant of King David, destined to reign forever. However, some of their quotes are so strained as to be almost incomprehensible, e.g., Matthew’s use of the Jewish scriptures to argue that the Messiah would be born in Nazareth. The second stream came from the secular cultures surrounding Jewish communities. These secular cultures generally believed that great men – generals, rulers, and prophets – were born of a woman impregnated by a god.

Out of the confluence of those two streams, Mary’s identity and role within Christianity underwent dramatic changes during Christianity’s two-thousand-year history.

Originally, as scholars learned from close study of the oldest portions of the New Testament, Mary was regarded simply as Jesus’ mother. When post-resurrection Christians began to understand Jesus as God’s only begotten son, the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke emerged to support claims of Jesus’ divinity, borrowing their conceptual framework from secular culture. The circumlocution “overshadowed” connotes God having intercourse with Mary, producing a son, Jesus, who was both divine and human. In the twenty-first century, we know that biology and spirituality may offer complementary explanations; we do not need to reject one explanation in favor of the other. If for no other reason, Jesus required a biological father from to whom to receive the X chromosome.

Mary’s virginity – itself a tricky translation problem because the Hebrew word may mean either a young woman or a virgin – was important only because it points to Jesus’ divine paternity. Over time, with increasing emphasis on Jesus’ divinity and diminishing emphasis on his humanity, Christians came to believe that Mary’s virginity was perpetual. What man could ever be worthy to enter into conjugal relations with the mother of God? Fortunately, the Greek word for brother also denotes cousins, so New Testament references to Jesus’ brothers became references to his cousins.

Additional reflection and Christian promulgation of the doctrine of original sin led to belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception, a feast first celebrated at Lyon in 1140 and established as the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in 1859.[1] A woman worthy of being the mother of God could not be tainted by sin. And if Mary was without sin, then she should not suffer death, the penalty for sin. Thus, the Roman Catholic Church in 1950 declared that Mary had been bodily assumed into heaven. Most recently, support has grown for the idea that Mary, along with Jesus, was co-redemptrix of the world. Pope John Paul II found this idea attractive but did not make it the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

Devotion to Mary found itself torn between two competing forces. On the one hand, devotion to Mary began as a counterbalance to increasing emphasis on Jesus’ divinity. The human Mary was more merciful and believed to have considerable influence with her son. In many ways, Mary became the human face of God. On the other hand, the exaltation of Mary brought a vital and missing feminine aspect to the Trinity (the Spirit as the feminine aspect of God was ignored or worse by male theologians).

The Protestant Reformation dethroned Mary as Queen of Heaven and relegated her to the margins of Christian theology and life.

Anglicans, consistently attempting to straddle the middle ground between Roman Catholics and Protestants have incorporated Marian feast days into their liturgical calendar but allow individuals to make of Mary what they will.

For me, Marian feast days afford an opportunity to highlight the importance of understanding God in feminine as well as masculine images; in truth, God is the one of whom it is impossible to say anything without committing idolatry (the via negativa). However, as in other religions, widespread human yearning to adore something greater than the self is the catalyst for speaking of God in concrete terms and images, e.g., as seen in the evolution of Mahayana Buddhism out of Theravadan Buddhism.

Similarly, the Christmas story affords an opportunity to emphasize Mary, the Jewish peasant girl who gave birth to Jesus. The biblical story of her devotion and obedience, whether factual or strictly mythical, remains a powerful spiritual and moral exemplar.

In the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Mary says, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” However one understands Mary’s identity, we rightly join with the generations who have preceded us in calling her blessed.

[1] Margaret Starbird, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail (Rochester, VT: Bear & Co., 1993), Kindle Loc. 2463-68.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Let it be with me according to your word

Mary Ann O’Roark was decorating for Christmas, rummaging through packing materials, unable to find the baby Jesus that belonged to the Nativity set from [Israel] given to her by her parents. She was having a hard time getting into the Christmas mood and had hoped that decorating would lift her spirits. Now she couldn’t find Jesus. Finally, she gave up in despair and decided to sit out Christmas – she wasn’t in the mood and, after all, Jesus was missing.

The next morning, walking to work, Mary Ann again noticed the homeless woman with a grimy green hat who had become a regular on her New York City block. This woman often slumped in a doorway or sprawled on the steps of the stone church across the street. Homeless people usually didn’t bother Mary Ann, but the woman in the grimy green hat “was hard to take, cursing passersby and shouting at cars. That day she lurched in front of [Mary Ann], thrusting out a swollen hand, ‘Got any money?’ she rasped.”

With a quick and definitive “No,” Mary Ann crossed the street to avoid further contact and found herself directly in front of the stone church. In the concrete courtyard adjacent to church’s front door was the beautiful manger scene that the church set out every year. Shepherds, wise men, animals, the holy family – all were there – and in the manger a plump, plaster baby Jesus with a golden halo, wrapped in swaddling cloths. For a second, Mary Ann almost felt the old spark of Christmas. Then she heard the woman in the grimy green hat cursing and the moment was gone.

Over the following days, Mary Ann O’Roark found herself drawn repeatedly to the church’s manger scene, perhaps to compensate for her own lack of Christmas spirit, perhaps hoping to rekindle something in herself. Then a few days before Christmas, as she hurried past the manger scene on her way home in the sleet and rain, Mary Ann glanced at the manger scene and was shocked to discover that the manger was empty. An indentation in the straw indicated where the baby had lain – but no Jesus. Who had stolen Jesus?

Out of the corner of her eye, Mary Ann noticed the woman with grimy green hat huddled against the side of a parking garage, protectively cradling a blanket wrapped bundle in her arms. As the woman rocked the bundle back and forth, a corner of the blanket slipped away, revealing the baby Jesus – safe and dry, out of the sleet. Noticing that the blanket had slipped, the woman tenderly kissed the plaster Jesus, tucked the blanket back in place, and held the baby even more securely in her arms.

Jesus was not missing. Mary Ann had simply not known where to look for him.[1]

In the frenzy of Christmas, pause; take some deep, relaxing breaths; and look for Jesus. You may find Jesus in an imperfect, incomplete House of God (the gathered people of God). You may find Jesus in the proclamation of good news, the telling and retelling of the wondrous Christmas story which still has an amazing capacity to touch and sometimes to inspire us (think of your favorite Christmas movie or novel). And you may find Jesus cradled in the arms of a homeless person, or the embrace of family, or in giving to people in our lives and to the least, most vulnerable in our midst. Communally and individually, may we, following the example of Jesus’ mother Mary, and Mary Ann O’Roark, join in responding to God by saying, “Let it be with me according to your word."[2]


[1] Mary Ann O’Roark, “Empty Manger,” Guideposts, December 2002, pp. 24-27.
[2] Luke 1:38.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Making peace not war with North Korea

Fear, hate, and conflict too often operate as a closed, self-reinforcing, repeating cycle. Fear feeds hate; hate feeds conflict; and conflict feeds fear.

Optimally, peacemakers disrupt that destructive cycle before conflict escalates into war. Fear (perfect love casts out fear), hate (love your neighbor), and violent conflict (turn the other cheek and the prioritization of life over property) are all antithetical to Jesus’ teachings.

North Korea and the United States are currently locked in an escalating cycle of fear, hate, and conflict. Briefly recapitulating North Korean and U.S. moves underscores the growing danger this cycle poses if it continues uninterrupted:

·       President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Il have repeatedly responded to one another with increasingly bellicose rhetoric. Moreover, the U.S. has heightened its defensive posture, the U.S. Department of Defense is considering ordering family members of military personnel stationed in South Korea to return to the States, and Hawai’i (where I live) has resumed testing its Cold War Civil Defense alert system and promulgated instructions to residents on what to do in case of a nuclear attack. Consequently, pundits and the public alike now openly talk about their fear of a potential U.S. – North Korean war.

·       Among actions that promote not only fear but hate, President Trump and Kim Jong Il consistently engage in xenophobic rhetoric and mutual name calling. Their xenophobia and name calling depersonalizes the other and the other’s nation. Depersonalization is a key element of and catalyst for hate. (I quote neither leader because doing so would indirectly contribute to their hateful efforts.)

·       Missile launches, nuclear weapon tests, expedited improvements to anti-missile systems, vastly increased military spending, aircraft carrier deployments, and expanded economic sanctions all indicate heightened levels of conflict. Importantly, some military ethicists argue that economic sanctions are a form of war waged by non-lethal means.

The foregoing analysis may appear to attribute disproportionate responsibility for this escalating cycle to the U.S. However, that imbalance simply results from fundamental differences between the two societies. U.S. moves, reported by a free press, are easier to ascertain than are North Korean moves that occur in the world’s most secretive state. The most reasonable supposition, supported by all available evidence, is that North Korea bears equal or greater responsibility for the current state of affairs.

What can Episcopalians, a small group of relatively powerless U.S. Christians, do to help break this potentially nightmarish cycle of fear, hate, and conflict?

Firstly, we need to gain courage by remembering that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:17) and that Jesus exhorted his disciples to “not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Thereby empowered, stand boldly and openly against the contagion of fear.

Whether anyone likes it or not, North Korea is today a nuclear power. Its nuclear weapons assuredly provide this isolated state and its dictatorial ruler increased confidence and self-esteem. Diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions have never caused any nation, once it has acquired nuclear weapons, to disarm. Expecting that North Korea to disarm voluntarily is naïve and unrealistic.

Aware of the potential nuclear threat that North Korea poses, courageous Christians nonetheless will refuse to panic or allow fear to shape their lives. They draw additional strength from their recognition that Kim, who is neither insane nor mentally ill, and the North Korean people do not want to fight a nuclear war they cannot win.

Secondly, we should speak and act in ways that incarnate God’s love for all, including both Donald Trump and Kim Jong Il. God, as Peter learned, accepts everyone as a beloved child. Mark’s (7:24-30) account of Jesus’ dialogue with a Syrophoenician woman memorably underscores this point. Indeed, God calls Christians to speak not with hate but with a love that welcomes and heals.

Choosing whom we identify as an enemy illustrates language’s power to shape relationships. Although I abhor most of Kim’s policies and those of his predecessors, I refuse to consider him, North Korea, or its people my enemies. North Koreans live in an unenviable police state and most endure abject poverty. They need our compassion, not our hate. Kim’s murderous bellicosity reveals his unremitting wariness against internal and external threats, real or imagined, upon which the continuance of his rule and life depend.

Similarly, I object to slogans such as America first (or North Korea first). These slogans are inimical with Christian love because they elevate one group of people while implicitly demeaning other peoples. More helpfully and hopefully, remember that North Korea is one of the last five remaining communist nations and that it, like all tyrannies, will eventually collapse from its own internal dysfunctionality. Engagement rather than isolation will expedite that collapse.

Groups such as the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and The Episcopal Church (particularly through its Washington Office) can constructively urge the U.S. and other states to welcome North Korea as part of the global community, giving North Korea the respect that they crave and boosting their confidence that they are secure from external threats. Steps to build bridges connecting North Korea and its people with the rest of the world include cultural exchanges, replacing sanctions with trade that incentivizes economic growth and improves the well-being of North Koreans, expanding their internet access, etc. These steps not only counter hate but also erode the ability of hate proponents to regain traction.

Finally, make peace, not war. Military action aimed at destroying North Korea’s nuclear weapons will fail and probably lead to a nuclear holocaust. A successful strike against North Korea’s nuclear capacity requires knowing the location of all of its nuclear weapons and of its weapon making facilities, then destroying those targets before North Korea is able to launch any of its weapons. If such a strike succeeded, North Korea would still possess a formidable non-nuclear military might with which it might strike at South Korea and U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula in retaliation for the preemptive strike. Media reports agree that U.S. military leaders oppose such a preemptive strike because of the improbability of success and the danger, after a partially successful preemptive strike, of North Korea launching a nuclear attack against South Korea, Japan, or the U.S. Christians, in cooperation with others opposed to military action against North Korea, today make peace and not war by protesting against the escalating conflict. A preemptive U.S. strike against North Korea serves no one’s interest.

Concurrently, make peace not war by advocating smaller defense budgets. Tulsi Gabbard, one of Hawai'i’s two Congressional representatives, is a combat veteran and Major in the National Guard. Her vote was one of just 72 against the proposed $700 billion 2018 U.S. defense budget. She opposed the bill because she believes some U.S. Middle Eastern arms sales harm the U.S. Encourage other members of Congress to emulate her example and vote against defense spending that harms the U.S. by destabilizing the Korean peninsula.

Make peace and not war by supporting with time and money candidates whose actions, and not just their words, demonstrate their commitment to peacemaking. Alternatively, run for office or convince a committed peacemaker to run for office. One New Testament thematic thread maintains that God gives us government for our benefit. In a democracy such as the United States, government is at least partially of the people, by the people, and for the people. This means political campaigning can be an essential facet of doing God’s work.

Admittedly, some of my recommendations resemble familiar nostrums. That is not a reason to ignore them. Living courageously in the face of fear, choosing to love instead of hate, and making peace instead of war are basic components of Christian discipleship. Now – especially as we near the end of Advent and begin our annual celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace – is the time for Christian peacemakers to join the struggle to end the cycle of fear, hate, and escalating conflict between North Korea and the United States.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent calls us to work for social justice

My reading the past few months has emphasized U.S. political history. Among the books I have read are:
Ron Chernow, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance
Jean Edward Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace
Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II
Jon Meacham, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship
Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism
Robert A. Caro, The Years of LBJ: The Path to Power
Barrack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Chris Whipple, The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency
Jay Parini, Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America
Michael Eric Dyson, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
Robert A. Caro, Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson II
Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III
Robert A. Caro, Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson IV
A theme that runs throughout those books, perhaps most surprisingly and unexpectedly in Chernow’s work on the House of Morgan, is that of important leaders attempting to act in the national interest. Many actions clothed in the rhetoric of national interest may have been more accurately described as in the interest of self, a small group of powerful people, or special interests. Nevertheless, the rhetoric of claiming to act in the national interest was apparently important and pervasive.
In the last fifty years, the concept of national interest has, thankfully, been widely broadened to include people of color and women. The current protests against inappropriate sexual harassment and illegal sexual assault in the workplace and other public places indicates that we still have a long way to go before women are fully and equally included in concern about the national interest. Similarly, the redefinition of national interest to fully and equally include people of color still has a long way to go as evidenced by the frequently racially driven controversies over Obama’s election and presidency.
Two things disturb me in spite of the progress I see and the distance yet to go before the arc of history fully bends toward justice.
First, too many leaders today primarily address their hearer’s self-interest. The rhetoric of national interest, even if more pretense than real, has given way to crude pandering to self-interest. This represents a step backward. Reclaiming the rhetoric of national, or, better yet, global interest at least puts a concern for more than self on the agenda.
Second, in the absence of rhetoric about national interest some leaders now focus almost exclusively on the interests of certain white males. Those white males include the affluent 1%, evangelical Christians, and whites who feel that they have been disenfranchised or left behind as the economy has automated, globalized, and responded to environmental concerns. Election of such leaders represents a hugely disturbing outcome of abandoning a broader, more inclusive rhetoric and an attempt to turn return to a more unjust, inequitable age.
In this season of Advent, remember that Jesus taught us to love all of our neighbors, not just neighbors who look like us or who share our values. If we would be part of fulfilling God’s vision for creation, then we must commit not only to the rhetoric of inclusivity but also to working to make that vision reality. Speak out against leaders who practice and advocate injustice and inequality. Vote to elect truly inclusive leaders. Let Advent become a clarion call to using your time and money to support campaigns and programs of social justice. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rethinking TEC's budget

The Most Rev. Michael Curry has been Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church for less than two years. Yet, while attending the Diocese of Hawai’i’s annual convention in October, I was impressed by Bishop Curry’s pervasive influence on the proceedings. His influence was especially noteworthy because Bishop Curry was not present and will not officially visit this Diocese until 2019.

Evidence of his influence included:

  • A speaker early in the proceedings repeatedly emphasized that one of his favorite quotations was from Bishop Curry (Forgive like Jesus; love like Jesus; serve like Jesus)
  • A video report from the Diocesan youth attendees at the Episcopal Youth Event prominently featured Bishop Curry and his dynamic preaching
  • Several individuals referenced Bishop Curry’s call for Episcopalians to become Jesus people.

More broadly, Bishop Curry’s influence is evident across our denominational structures, organization, and programs. Illustratively, his influence is apparent in the new budget format that Executive Council member Tess Judge, who chairs the Finance for Mission Committee, recently announced: “In the current and prior triennia, the budgets were built to reflect the Five Marks of Mission. The 2019-2021 budget is based on The Jesus Movement with Evangelism, Racial Reconciliation & Justice, and Environmental Stewardship as priorities.” She also observed that the new format better aligns the budget with the staff’s current departmental organization, another indication of Bishop Curry’s influence. (Margaret Wessel Walker, “Invitation to comment on preliminary draft budget,” November 13, 2017)

As a priest who emphasizes Jesus’ many teachings about money and as a former business school ethics professor, I recognize the truth in the old adage, Money talks. How we – whether a business, an individual, a family, a parish, or a denomination – spend our money reveals our values and our priorities.

Closer examination of The Episcopal Church’s (TEC’s) budget suggests that we have some distance to travel before we actually realize Bishop Curry’s vision of a Jesus Movement.

First, the budget proposes a deficit of $4,491,411. If all of the people who sit in Episcopal church pews were actually committed to the Jesus Movement, giving would be substantially greater, thereby increasing income for dioceses and the national church. TEC needs to revitalize and energize its connections with its chief constituents, that is, its dioceses and congregations.

TEC’s anticipated income from dioceses over the 2019-2021 triennium is $87.2 million, or about $17 per Episcopalian per annum. Of course, not all 1.72 million nominal Episcopalians contribute to their local congregation, much less are active. However, those numbers do highlight that we Episcopalians are a long way from truly becoming Jesus People. In general, we have not aligned our individual values and priorities with those consonant with Bishop Curry’s vision of the Jesus Movement. Endowment and other non-offering income keeps TEC, like many of its dioceses and congregations, financially afloat, e.g., in 2016, plate and pledge income only slightly exceeded 58% of total income. (Cf. EPISCOPAL CHURCH DOMESTIC FAST FACTS: 2016).

Second, the draft budget underscores TEC’s (and Christianity’s) marginalization. Christendom, if it ever existed, is dead. The US economy in 2016 had a Gross Domestic Product of $18.57 trillion. Compared to total US economic output, TEC’s annual budget of less than $45 million is a relative pittance. The US currently has 540 billionaires, the poorest of whom could singlehandedly fund TEC’s budget for 22 years without any additional income or assets.

TEC will maximize its potential effectiveness by prayerfully and intentionally focusing its scant resources and efforts on a small set of priorities such as Bishop Curry’s three marks of the Jesus Movement: Evangelism, Racial Reconciliation & Justice, and Creation Care. Taken together, the draft budget recommends only $14.4 million for those three categories, about 10% of the triennium budget, arguably too little to maximize TEC’s impact. No longer can we try to be all things to all people, to undertake every ministry and mission that is part of ushering in the fullness of God’s kingdom. Reshaping TEC will inevitably require hard choices between competing ministry/mission options.

For example, I personally appreciate the ministry of several Bishops Suffragan for Federal Ministries. In my long service as a Navy chaplain representing TEC, their ministries provided vital support, guidance, and assistance. I remain firmly committed to TEC supporting our chaplains and their indispensable ministries. However, the proposed budget for Federal Ministries is almost three times that allocated to Creation Care, one of the three characteristics of Jesus People ($2.1 million versus $740 thousand). Concurrently, the numbers of TEC federal chaplains and of the Episcopalians to whom they minister are declining. Critically, the budget for Creation Care does not fund a staff position, a key element of effectiveness in bureaucratic organizations like TEC. Perhaps it is time to rethink how TEC supports federal chaplains. Alternative, lower cost arrangements may be possible for endorsing, guiding, supporting, and assisting federal chaplains. TEC needs to determine acceptable tradeoffs not only between lower levels of support for federal chaplains and increased funding for the marks of the Jesus Movement but also with respect to all of its existing programs.

Altering how TEC does ministry and mission is essential if we are truly to align our resources and efforts with the Jesus Movement. Realignment, as the foregoing example shows, will be costly in both dollars and reductions to valuable programs. Furthermore, attempting realignment will certainly trigger strong, vociferous objections. But being faithful stewards of our limited resources will require slaughtering some sacred cows as we make tough choices, choosing the more valuable of two good programs when we lack the resources to fund both.

Third, TEC spends far too much on governance and connectivity. The budget includes five addtional categories in addition to the three that correspond to the marks of the Jesus Movement. Those five are: Ministry of the Presiding Bishop to Church and World, Mission Within the Episcopal Church, Mission Beyond the Episcopal Church, Mission Governance, and Mission Finance, Legal & Operations. The last two categories represent almost 49% of the draft budget.

Mission Governance costs of $19 million are primarily attributable to meetings, including General Convention, Executive Council, and other internal bodies. Electronic communication and social media will enable us to replace many structures that worked well in the early nineteenth century. TEC and some dioceses have already taken initial steps in this direction. Additionally, a large majority of Episcopalians are disinterested in TEC’s governance and its national structure, either ignorant of what TEC does or believing that TEC provides little or no support to their local congregation. Connectivity, both within TEC and with other Churches, is increasingly the exclusive domain of an elite few rather than an essential component of the average Episcopalian’s spiritual journey.

Mission Finance, Legal & Operations costs of $40 million are primarily overhead, i.e., fundraising, financial management and accounting, legal, facilities, human resources, etc. At 30% of total projected expenses, this means that TEC spends something in the range of 70% of its total income on ministry and mission. If TEC were a secular charity, I would hesitate to contribute because of these high administrative costs. Even if the $40 million encompasses a few programs more accurately identified as ministry or mission, administrative costs seem disproportionately high and are symptomatic of an arteriosclerotic organization that would benefit from creative disruption.

The three characteristics of the Jesus Movement that Bishop Curry emphasizes – Evangelism, Racial Reconciliation & Justice, and Environmental Stewardship – may not be inherently superior to other emphases. However, TEC elected Bishop Curry as our Presiding Bishop. His influence is rapidly becoming pervasive throughout The Episcopal Church. So, let’s capitalize on that momentum, quit living in the past, sharpen our focus, cut overhead, and accelerate developing and funding ministries and missions for the twenty-first century, confident that the Holy Spirt will bless our efforts.

Monday, December 11, 2017

When history and faith intersect

When a Navy ship passes the ARIZONA Memorial, that ship renders honors as if passing another ship. The bosun of the watch pipes attention to port or starboard, as the case may be, and then everyone on deck on that side of the ship comes to attention and, at the designated moment, renders a hand salute to the ARIZONA. At first, rendering honors to a sunken ship seemed strange. Over time, I realized that the practice honored not only the one thousand one hundred and seventy-seven sailors and Marines killed in the sinking of the ARIZONA but also all who died in the attack on the seventh of December 1941.

The reading from Ecclesiasticus (44:1-15) reminds us to honor not only the famous but also the unknown yet numerous ordinary, godly Israelites whose names are lost to history. This cross, constructed from metal taken from the ARIZONA’s hull, calls us to pause for a moment to honor by remembering with a brief prayer both for those who died on December 7, 1941 and the people who found their spiritual home at St George’s, for which the cross was originally made.

I have also attended reenlistment ceremonies aboard the ARIZONA, ceremonies in which a sailor committed him or herself to serving in the Navy for another three to six years. Sailors choosing to celebrate an important career milestone aboard a memorial to a ship sunk in a tragic defeat, a site hallowed by the entombment of over one thousand sailors and Marines, may seem incongruous. Yet, as today’s first reading clearly implies, we remember those who died for causes and values we hold dear not only to honor them but also in the hope that we shall have the courage, perseverance, and strength to emulate their example.

Jesus was the human face of God. We tell his story to encourage ourselves and others to follow his example. Similarly, when we talk story and personalize our memories, drawing inspiration from a specific person, we more easily avoid the temptation of remembering without genuinely honoring their memory by following their example.

For example, one such person was Ken Perkins, whom you also may have been privileged to know and whose life repeatedly intersected with what this memorial symbolizes. Ken was ordained priest here in 1933. After filling various positions, including at St. Andrew’s, he served as a Navy chaplain from 1941 to 1962. Then he served as rector of St. George’s Church for a decade. In retirement, Ken was for many years the diocesan historian. He died in 2001. There were some memorable moments in his ministry: watching the battle of Midway, praying at the dedication of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, and as chaplain of the USS AUGUSTA preaching to President Truman en route to the 1945 Potsdam Conference. But, like most of us, Ken never did anything earthshaking. However, in conversing with Ken and his wife Ruth, I repeatedly thought to myself that I would do well to emulate this man: a good person and faithful if unsung priest through whom God had transformed many lives. Who is the unknown saint on whom you pattern spiritual journey?

In 1984, I conducted the committal service for Seaman 2nd Class Donald Hugh Millikin. He was the second of the ARIZONA crew members who survived the December seventh attack who, when he died, wished to be interred with his shipmates. A National Park Service employee and I took a small boat to the ARIZONA when it was closed to visitors, positioned ourselves above the Number 4 turret, and the Park Service employee dropped the urn containing Donald’s ashes into the turret at the correct moment as I read the committal service.

This Memorial beautifully represents history and faith intersecting. When we respond to God’s call, we become part of God creating a new heaven and a new earth. Joining with God and the company of saints, apparent defeats – death on a cross, efforts to bend the arc of history away from freedom and justice, or the closing of a once thriving parish – are nothing more than the birth pangs of that new creation. Doing God’s work, not seeking fame or fortune, is our calling.

May this Memorial help us to honor the unsung heroes of the USS ARIZONA and St George’s Church; may we tell their stories and emulate their examples; and may we, like them, be part of the great company of saints on earth and in heaven. Amen.

(I preached this sermon at the Dedication of the USS ARIZONA Memorial, seen in the attached photo, in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Honolulu, HI, December 10, 2017.)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Not like me

Photos of Donald Trump in group settings greatly disturb me. The people around him all look a lot like he does: older, Caucasian, and male. I don’t have anything older Caucasian males; I myself am one.

However, photos of Trump with groups comprised exclusively, or overwhelmingly disproportionately, of older Caucasian males harken back decades to when such photos were the norm because older Caucasian males dominated most spheres of life (politics, business, etc.) in the United States.

Such photos do not depict who I am as a social being nor do they depict who we are as a people or should strive to be. Diversity enriches politics, business, friendships, and all other spheres of our personal and communal lives.

Where are the women in these photos? Where are the people of color?

Regardless of Trump’s rhetoric, the US under his leadership has moved away from being a government of, by, and for the people. Sadly, his anti-immigrant policies, along with other moves such as the tax cut working its way through Congress, attempt to push back the arc of justice rather than to advance that arc.

God values each person individually, treasuring our different genders, races, ethnicities, gender orientations, etc. Homogenization fails God, self, and community.

Monday, December 4, 2017


A friend, who is also a Christian, a scientist, and an ardent environmentalist, sent me the following:
Americans throw away 25% more trash from Thanksgiving to Christmas than the rest of the year. Advent, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, is the time we prepare for the joy of God entering the world as a baby. It is a beautiful reminder to us that God loved the world enough to be part of the created world with us! It can also be a reminder of how we treat the earth that God loves. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. What if we tied a bow around our relationships and experiences to show thanks to God rather than to ribbon? If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. Nearly half the world’s toys are in America, despite making up just over 3% of the global population of children. Let’s show our love of God and our neighbor with less stuff and more love.

Weekly actions for December can be found on the website: